What do you see when you look at this picture? A simple picture, right? A country church in the midst of green fields.
A Facebook friend of mine posted this picture as the field that she farms sits catty-corner from the church. She captured the spring beauty of the corn field that so many of us with country blood in our veins crave to see. Especially those raised on a farm who no longer get the privilege of seeing that green wave of corn every day. Thank you, Carolyn Muessman, for taking the picture and triggering my heartwarming reaction.
When she posted it, my breath stopped for a second. My fingers were doing their windshield wiper scroll through the News Feed – a mindless habit we all do. And suddenly this photo appeared in the middle of my casual surfing. I had to pause, while my heart caught up with my brain’s registering that this wasn’t just any picture. This was “my” church. This was “my” road. This was decades of memories that somersaulted into my mind from one innocent picture. My simple, beautiful, amazingly peaceful, fun childhood. My life. My home.
The word “home” sparks a firework imagery of pictures from the past. There is an immediate recall of memories that scroll rapidly before my eyes. Some are black and white. Some are vivid colors. Some are blurred. And some are as sharp as if they were yesterday. Crystal clarity.
All of my sensory feelers goes into overload. Smells are triggered. Rich Illinois-dark soil. Springtime fragrance. The smell of our house. Dad’s basement. Rain. Cloudy mornings. Lake water and the smell of boat fumes.
Sounds as in the birds singing outside my bedroom window. The mower. The tractors. Freight trains at my grandma’s house. Horse hooves on asphalt roads. The whisper of wheat fields. Wind rushing through trees. The silent comfortable sounds of lifelong friendships.
The feel of soft tender grass beneath my feet. The sting of wheat slapping my legs as I ride my horse through the fields. The feel of my dad’s strong lead when we danced. The feel of my sister’s hand in mine, when we were young. The feel of my mother’s aging hands today.
They all have sights, sounds, and smells associated with it that reach deep into my soul and hugs my heart like no other memories do.
When I look at this photo, I see the church and the steps that we walked into as kids. Baptisms, confirmations, marriages. Funerals. My own and my families memories of a simple, sweet, and meaningful life. I see the sidewalk that got in the way of my first driving lesson, with my dad’s soft, frantic voice guiding me. I see the oiled road where I rode my bike every day. Where I rode my horse. Where our family would wait anxiously for our friends on our early morning vacation “road trips” every summer. The church was our “meeting place”.
But it’s also more than just a picture that I see. I see my family’s ancestors gathered on Sunday. I feel the way of life. I feel the commitment to our religion and upbringing that spanned decades and decades of farm life and community. A community of giving and sharing that our future generations might have difficulty understanding. I read my dad’s journal and try to wrap my mind around how it must have been. Pot luck dinners. Bridge games. Riding a pony to school. Church functions. Socials. Meetings. Sharing of church responsibilities. I remember specifics like the red card table that he set up after church to “count the money”, from the collection plates. I hear my mother’s voice in the choir and see her playing the organ, her fingers turning the pages while she played. I hear my sister and I harmonizing our favorite hymns on Sundays. I hear the blessings and prayers for the sick and injured. Those farmers who might need help in the field. A community of givers that was truly instrumental in our development of lifelong values rich with kindness.
This church is a pictorial and historic reminder of a way of life that started even before the church congregation was formed in 1880. One of the first members has been documented as being my family ancestor which makes this photo all that more meaningful to me. The physical church – the one that now stands, was built in 1905 and seeing this photo brings out my heritage pride as I envision the way it was back then, with my ancestors arriving in horse drawn buggy’s, women in dresses and hats, men in dark suits. The binding pride I feel in knowing they participated in the building and organization of this church and the realization that our family has been attending services here for over a century. Walking up the same steps, down the same aisle for communion. Our voices filling the same sanctuary where my sister’s voice is still heard. Sitting in the same wooden oak pews. Our hands touching the same places where we stood, praying the same prayers. For rain, good crops, health, the sick, and the dying. For wars and men and women in uniform. Our brothers and sisters in faith. Those hallowed walls have heard us all, connecting us through time travel by our ancestry and desire to live by faith to eternity.
So much can be learned from history if you seek it out to understand the impact that it has – the glaring realization of the significance of how our actions of today will impact generations in the future. These are just some of the recordings that I found interesting:
The first sermons were in German and both English and German services were alternately held. As late as 1941 they discontinued German communion services.
The first salary for the pastor was $400 annually.
The minutes of their church meetings talk about new hitching posts for the horses and donating corn and oats for the Pastor’s horse.
If a member of the congregation died during the day, the bell would toll at once, if death occurred at night, it would be tolled at 9:00 am the following morning.
There was a one room school for grades 1-8 on the church property. It closed in 1961. It was the original church before it was the school.
Historic facts are interesting but when you realize they involve your family, it means so much more. It all connects with us. Which is why when I look at this picture, I see so much more than a church in the country. I see my life. My family’s life. An ancestral image on center stage in our lives.
If I let my imagination transcend me to another time I can almost see apparitions of my ancestors, waving to me with gloved hands. I imagine that they might be whispering graciously to me…
“Thank you for continuing to love this church”.
“Thank you for walking down this aisle and sitting where we sat.”
“Thank you for continuing what we started”
“We did this for you and all future generations”
“It means so much”. “We are so proud”.
“Thank you for still calling this ‘home’”.
So you see, when I flipped through the photos that day and my casual surfing found this photo staring up at me, I suddenly had an inherent feeling of “home” and realization that it was so much more than just a picture. It was an immeasurable beautiful reminder of the past greeting the present and an idyllic hope for an infinite future for this church and the hallowed walls that yearn to hear the music of future voices.
Life changes – an energetic flow of time moves before us and after us – an ever-shifting ride towards eternity. We age, we lose people we love, and now another family drives down our road and lives in the house that built me. But that’s ok. Because the profound comforting fact remains and this image reminded me of that – no matter where I live or how old I am, it will always be “home” to me. This heartwarming realization brings joy to this girl’s heart.
Photo Credit: Carolyn Muessman
Historical Credit: St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Dorans, Illinois – 125 Anniversary Directory